Students across Texas are struggling to complete their degrees while building their resumes. Increasingly, unpaid internships and prestigious volunteer activities have become the norm during a young adults’ college years — at least for those students who can afford to work for free. However, recent graduates who had to work through school often face an uphill battle when trying to compete for spots in the workforce against their more affluent peers.
In the last weeks of the regular session, the Texas Legislature passed Senate Bill 1119 to bring more transparency to the state’s work-study program and help improve career pathways for participating students. Work-study — when the job placement is in an in-demand career field, as the state requires a certain percentage to be — can be a valuable way for students to gain needed experience while helping to pay the costs of their education. This bipartisan measure deserves the governor’s approval for the valuable insight it will bring to the students who participate in the program.
In less than five years, more than 60 percent of all jobs in Texas will require some level of post-secondary education. At the same time, employers nationwide have been forced to reduce training time for new employees and cut back on entry-level positions. Last year to better understand the impact of this trend, Young Invincibles, the nation’s leading millennial nonprofit organization, completed a series of tours focusing on conversations with over 250 young people across our state on their experiences completing degrees and entering the workforce.
Young Invincibles focuses on the economic issues facing young people between the ages of 18 and 34. Throughout the tour, we heard young adults illustrate the reality of our changing economy: Balancing work and school is a necessity, but with rising costs of tuition, it’s a near-impossible one. Many expressed their struggles juggling the hours of paid work they needed to cover bills and tuition with the hours needed to keep their grades on track for graduation and to remain eligible for financial aid. One student told us: At some point — when trying to balance work in school — “even in the beginning you can manage, but as you move forward in your career and your studies, it’s harder and harder to keep your job.”
Many of the young people we work with identify the Texas Work-Study Program as an important avenue for them to tackle this education-experience paradox. Before SB 1119, the only information the state was required to provide was a biannual report on the employers in the program — nothing on participating students.
The bill requires the report be made annual and include:
• Demographic information.
• The program of study and majors.
• Class-year designations.
• Whether participating students are enrolled on a full-time or part-time basis.
This new data will help us better ensure the Texas Work-Study Program is helping young Texans gain career-relevant experience. By identifying how students’ programs of study and majors compare to the participating employers, for example, we will be able to identify gaps and misalignments in opportunities. If specific groups of students are being underserved by the program — for example, students in certain class years or degree programs — we can help ensure targeted, appropriate outreach to those who may benefit most from work-study.
In 1979, a student working a minimum-wage job could earn enough in one day to pay for one academic credit hour. Today, it would take 60 hours of minimum wage work for a student to accomplish the same. The Texas Work-Study Program is a valuable tool in helping students keep their heads above water. By ensuring we better understand the young adults participating in the program, we will be better able to align work-study programs with long-term career goals for young Texans.
Buchanan is an Austin-based regional director of Young Invincibles.